Small Favours by India?

India have named Wriddhiman Saha as wicketkeeper over Rishabh Pant for the First Test commencing 17 December, and Ravichandran Ashwin over Ravindra Jadeja as off-spinner. I have no insight into Team India’s thinking and would be the first to concede they must have their reasons for choosing these players, but my gut feeling is they have done Australia a (small) favour.

There’s no question any team India fields will be difficult to beat, but it seems to me there is evidence to suggest Pant and Jadeja (if the latter is fit) might have made for a stronger team.

First of all, let’s look at the wicketkeepers.

Saha is 36 years old. He averages 30.19 with the bat across 37 Tests and has made 5 Test centuries, including 117 against Australia in Ranchi in March 2017. He has only played 3 Tests in Australia, making 111 runs at 18.50. In the practice matches against Australia prior to the First Test, he made two scores of zero and one of 54 not out. I’m not sure I understand the upside for India in picking a player who is clearly at the end of his career when a tour to Australia would be such a great experience for a promising younger player.

Pant is 23 years old and clearly represents the future for India. He has already proven he’s a dynamic batsman, averaging 38.76 over 17 Tests, with 2 centuries, including 159 not out against Australia in Sydney in January 2019 during India’s most recent tour. He also made 103 not out against Australia A last week in a practice match. He’s a dangerous player.

Perhaps Team India feels Saha is a much better ‘keeper than Pant. If so, fair enough. But he’d need to be far far better to compensate for Pant’s youth and electrifying batting. Saha is a very good player and is more than capable of hurting Australia, but as an Aussie fan, I’d rather Australia play against him than Pant.

Similarly, with Ravichandran Ashwin, India appears to have opted for seniority over form. Now 34, Ashwin has never played very well in Australia. He has taken 70% of his Test wickets in India at 22.80, but his average away from home is 31.44, and in Australia over 7 Tests it is 48.07.

Ravinja Jadeja has often played second fiddle to Ashwin, but in my mind is a far better cricketer. He, too, has taken most (i.e. 74%) of his Test wickets in India. He has played only 2 Tests in Australia over his long career, having been pigeon-holed more as a white ball cricketer than Ashwin. But there is something about Jadeja; an aggression and feistiness that makes him my favourite Indian cricketer. He saves his best for Australia, and one need look no further than the huge impact he had on the recent ODI and T20 series against Australia. What’s not clear, though, is whether Jadeja’s omission is due to the concussion and hamstring strain he suffered during the T20 series eleven days ago. If he’s still not good to go, then India would have little option but to go with Ashwin. Fair enough.

All four of these players can win a Test for India if everything goes their way and they play their best cricket. But as an Australian, I’d rather not face Pant and Jadeja.

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